Helping a 5-year-old Sleep on Her Own

My habit had been to lay down with my five year old daughter at bedtime until she was asleep, which often took half an hour or more.  She would fall asleep fairly easily when others put her to bed, reading books with the light on until she fell asleep.  I was ready to make a shift in this pattern, but didn’t want to use that approach.

She and I share a room and I told her that I would lay next to her for a few minutes and then go over to my own bed to sleep there.  I had a cold at the time and wanted to get to bed early, so this felt right to me.  As I started to get up out of her bed, she protested.  In the past I would have been focused on moving myself farther away in spite of her protests.  Instead I moved in closer and just said, “You really don’t want me to go.”  I touched the side of her face.  She began crying.  These were big fat tears rolling down her face.

She sat next to me and said that she didn’t want me to go because she might feel lonely, that she would feel all alone, that she didn’t want to feel lonely.  I said, “You don’t want to feel lonely,” and she said, “No, I want someone to be with me, that’s what I want.”  She said this very strongly several times.  She cried and cried for about 10 or 15 minutes.  Toward the end she said, “And I might not have anyone to play with” and cried very hard again.

She had just started kindergarten a month earlier and had told me before that sometimes at recess she would look around and not see anyone to play with.  She then was snuggling in my lap and looking very sleepy.  After this she said, “Mommy, can you lay one more minute next to me?” and I said yes.  I laid down for only a minute and gave her a hug as I told her I was getting up.  She very sweetly looked up at me and said okay.  She was very peaceful as I left, and didn’t ask for her night light.  I went over to my bed and I could hear that she was asleep within minutes.

The next night as I explained that I would again go to my bed, she began protesting vehemently.  She asked to sleep in my bed, and I explained that tonight we were going to keep working on having her sleep in her own bed and mommy sleep in her own bed.  As I got up to leave her bed, she was clinging to my leg and then she ran over to my bed.  I said, “Tonight you need to sleep in your own bed.”  I was able to keep my voice sweet, calm and matter of fact.  After several minutes of her going back and forth around the room, she became angry at me.

I approached her and said, “You need to come back to your own bed.”  She began to hit me and kick me to keep me away.  I moved in close and gently held her arms.  She was crying hard and raging at me.  I maneuvered one of my legs to keep her legs from hitting me.  She was crying very hard and perspiring.  I remained calm and said, “I am here with you, I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you.”  She looked at me with absolute terror in her eyes and screeched, “I might die! I might die!”  I said “I’m not going to let you die.”

At various points she was pulling my hair and I would need to release her fingers from it.  At one point she said, “Don’t hold my wrist, you’re hurting my bee sting, my wrist hurts, you’re hurting the bee sting on my wrist!”  I wasn’t actually holding her wrist, but was holding loosely farther up on her arm and she has never had a bee sting on her wrist.  She’s had one bee sting last summer and it was on her hip.

Then I remembered that when she was one day old she had blood drawn from the vein on the top of her hand.  We had needed to take her into the hospital to have the routine blood test for newborns since that wasn’t something they could do at the birth center where she was born.  The technician was very inexperienced and she got poked many times while he tried to get the needle into her wrist.  As he did this she was screaming and I was distraught myself.  We’d had a difficult time getting breast feeding to work and I had been feeling I was failing her.  In this state of overwhelm I had asked her father to hold her during the procedure while I was right next to them.  These memories flashed through my mind as I was with her.  As she cried and raged and tried to kick me and pull my hair I just said in a very calm, very sure voice, “I am right here with you, I am watching you every minute, I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you.”

After about 20 minutes she became very calm and climbed into my lap to be cuddled.  We went over to her bed and she again asked if I would lay down next to her for one more minute.  When I got up to go I gave her a big hug and she said, “I love you mommy.” and went peacefully to sleep.

– a Parenting by Connection Mom

Yes! I would like more free resources on helping my children sleep. Click here.

4 thoughts on “Helping a 5-year-old Sleep on Her Own

  1. Hello!

    I just wanted to comment that this blog would have been wonderful to share with other parents that have this same exact problem but I couldn’t find a link or share option on it to email or forward to other parents. I work with different parents that would love this information and that would maybe visit this site after reading this blog thus, creating more traffic on your site which is what is needed to promote teachings like ones in this non-profit.

    Great article!

    Best Regards,

    Jackie =)

  2. Thanks for prompting us, Jackie! There is now a Share button at the bottom of each of our blog entries and we hope that will help lots more parents.

  3. Top Parenting Posts of 2011 | Super-protective Factor

  4. I need advice on how to get my 5 year old to go to sleep on her own with out always having to be patted to sleep every night.

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